Between September 14 and 20, Russia will execute one of its biggest military exercises since the end of the Cold War. While some Western estimates put the number of troops taking part at up to one hundred thousand, the Russians insist these figures are exaggerated. No other exercise has been followed by Western analysts with comparable attention since 1990, though Moscow claims the drills are routine. So far, NATO's response has been to take the Kremlin at its word, with no plans for additional deployments in the East. But this may change.
The upcoming Zapad-17 exercise, which will take place in Belarus, Kaliningrad, the Baltic Sea, and western Russia, may feature further escalation of NATO air space violations by the Russians, intentional or otherwise. NATO will also carefully look at the kind of offensive scenarios that are being exercised. But the real question that needs to be asked about the maneuvers is not what will happen during them, but what happens after they have been completed.